PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit over elements of a large Ochoco National Forest thinning and vegetation management project, claiming it would build too many roads, allow logging by streams and fail to identify and protect elk habitat.
Central Oregon LandWatch and Oregon Wild filed suit in Eugene last week, objecting to elements of the 15,763-acre Black Mountain Vegetation Management Project, located on the Paulina Ranger District, just east of Big Summit Prairie and about 35 miles east of Prineville.
The project plans include commercial and non-commercial thinning to reduce hazardous fuel loads, biomass removal and prescribed burning, as well as replanting and stream restoration.
"The project is needed to restore characteristic dry forest vegetative conditions in the Black Mountain project area, thereby increasing resilience to insects, disease, fire, and drought; reducing the risk of uncharacteristic high-severity fires; enhancing and restoring hardwood communities; and protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat for an array of species," the Forest Service said at the time of approval.
But the environmental groups claim the plan would result in 22 miles of damaging new roads and mechanical disturbance to riparian habitat along over 80 miles of streams, including the North Fork Crooked River.
LandWatch noted that Rocky Mountain elk need large, undisturbed areas with ample forage vegetation, often found near streams. They also noted the project threatens the same area that several groups recently defended from a proposal for a major new trail system for off-road vehicles.
"Now that the Forest Service has again approved a project that would damage some of the Ochocos’ most sensitive habitat, we are going back to court in hopes of overturning the portions of the Black Mountain project that would harm fish and wildlife the most," staff attorney Rory Isbell said.